If you've had the immense treat of visiting San Francisco's Miette bakery, you're one of the lucky ones. If you haven't yet stepped foot into this little crumb of a shop, put it on your list. At Miette, you find walls of vintage cake stands, beautifully-wrapped candies and caramels, and the sweetest cakes, cupcakes and tarts you've ever laid eyes on. Somehow owner Meg Ray has succeeded in creating a space that celebrates delicate American interpretations of classic European desserts without verging on overly precious. You actually want to eat these sweets, not just admire them. And so, I was thrilled to lay my hands on her much-anticipated cookbook, especially since I'd heard that many of Miette's most beloved recipes would be included.
The rumor is true. Meg Ray includes recipes for such classics as The Old Fashioned Cupcakes, Gingersnaps, Bittersweet Ganache Cake, Miette Marshmellows, and Parisian Macarons. And how these recipes came to be? Meg never set out to open a bakery, but she always loved baking and would often enter her cakes in the local county fair. She slowly fell in love with the methodical process of baking itself although her career was oriented much more towards art and design. After a great deal of traveling and exploring bakeries and patisseries in her free time, Meg says, "without realizing it, I was gathering the knowledge to open my own bakery." And so, with Miette, she had stumbled upon a way to meld her love for baking with her experience and passion for design. A most special and memorable shop was born.
Even if you've never visited Miette, you'll feel as though you have after flipping through Meg's cookbook. So much of this can be attributed to the lovely photos from Frankie Frankeny that, at times, instruct step-by-step how to tackle a process like putting together a cake. And at other times, simply set the mood and tone that Meg has worked so hard to convey with the physical space of Miette. How Frankie mastered this is beyond me: she even makes a vat of cream cheese icing look divine. So dive right in. Experience Miette -- for the first time or returning with anticipation. This one will be at the top of my stack for a long, long while.
First impressions: I can't start discussing first impressions of this book without mentioning the scalloped edges of the pages. They're the first tip-off that this is a very different collection in a class of its own. The book contains chapters covering Miette's full line, including Cakes, Afternoon Cakes, Tarts, Cookies/Bars/Pastries, Candies and Creams, and Miette Essentials (buttercreams, icings, mousses). And accompanying each recipe is a little pink box with background information and history on each recipe.
Number of recipes: 100 recipes; 75 beautiful color photographs.
Strengths: Variety of recipes, clear instructive voice, absolutely approachable for home cooks and professionals alike.
The other stuff: At the beginning of the book, there's a great little section on Cakes and what you need to know before beginning: elements such as "pan preparation" and "preparing the crumb coat." The writing is such that you feel as though Meg is standing right next to you casually coaching you through each step. The section on "Essential Ingredients" isn't new to so many cookbooks these days, but here Meg actually discusses different flours, starches, nuts, and sweeteners, offering important information on usage and storage. This will be useful to the novice or more seasoned baker as well.
Recipes for right now: Fleur de sel Caramels, Chocolate Sables (see recipe below!), Lemon Tart, Honey Tea Cake.
Recommended? Yes, with complete and utter enthusiasm.
• Find It: Miette: Recipes from San Francisco's Most Charming Pastry Shop by Meg Ray with Leslie Jonath, $15.62 at Amazon
Chocolate Sable Cookies
If ever you are in Paris, you must make a pilgrimage to the Pierre Hermé boutique on rue Bonaparte. I made such a pilgrimage during a trip to Paris the first year I was in business, joining the queue that wraps around the block. As I inched into the store, I filled my basket with one of everything off the shelf, including a canister of his chocolate sables – the inspiration for this cookie. The Miette version replicates the same experience of biting into a crisp lattice supporting bits of pure, soft chocolate. Like our Double Chocolate Cake, this recipe calls for both cocoa and chocolate. When you bring these two ingredients together, you get a resounding chocolate taste, much more complex than if you were to use just one or the other. Use a high-quality chocolate and feel free to venture into something more bittersweet. The sprinkling of sugar on top can carry the intensity of a dark chocolate.
Makes about thirty-six 1-inch square cookies
1 cup (5 ounces) all-purpose flour
1/3 cup (1 ounce) natural unsweetened cocoa powder (see note)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup (4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup (4 1/2 ounces) sugar, plus more for sprinkling
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 1/2 ounces 70 percent cacao chocolate, grated
1. Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, and baking soda into a bowl and set aside.
2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the butter, sugar, salt, and vanilla until lightened, about 4 minutes. Add the dry ingredients and grated chocolate and mix just to combine.
3. If the dough is soft, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes. (The dough will keep, wrapped in plastic, for up to 1 week in the refrigerator or 3 months in the freezer.) Otherwise, roll out the dough 1/2 inch thick on a lightly floured work surface into a 6-by-7-inch rectangle. Using a ruler, square the edges as much as possible. Using a sharp knife or a pizza cutter, cut the dough into 1-inch squares. Place them 2 inches apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Sprinkle lightly with sugar.
4. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Bake the cookies until they are firm, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove to a wire rack to cool. Store in airtight containers for up to 2 weeks.
We use natural cocoa powder not Dutch-processed, as the Dutch-processed cocoa has been treated with an alkalizing agent that heightens the color but gives it a milder flavor. For this recipe, it is important to use natural product such as Scharffen Berger to attain a deep, dark chocolate flavor.
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(Images: Chronicle Books and Flickr via UrbanFoodie33)